Swallowtails & Sycamores

March 2011
Project proposal: Art in Storefronts (Central Market)
Swallowtails & Sycamores

In 2007, I founded the Mission Greenbelt project, a public ecological artwork building gardens into sidewalks to provide connections to existing open spaces conducive to pollinators, songbirds, and butterflies. The benefits are many; here are a few:

• food provisions and habitat for pollinators, songbirds, and butterflies
• plants that take in carbon and transform it into oxygen
• permeable soil in place of concrete absorbs rainwater, recharges aquifers, ameliorates temperature and weather conditions, and mitigates the effects of  ‘hardscape’ on the human psyche
• stronger communities and beautiful common spaces

My proposal for Art in Storefronts (Central Market) is to illustrate the specific relationship between the western tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio rutulus) and one of its larval food plants, the London Plane tree (Platanus x acerifolia) that grows along Market Street.

In Glen Canyon, the female western tiger swallowtail glides through dappled sunlight in and out of the willow trees that line Islais Creek. Willow, along with sycamore, alder, cherry and maple are the western tiger swallowtail’s larval food plants. All these trees produce oils that stimulate this butterfly to lay eggs; the same oils also stimulate feeding by the larva.

The London plane is in the sycamore family, a hybrid between the oriental plane (Platanus orientalis) and the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). Today, as a result of the presence of this street tree, the butterfly can be seen just as it is in Glen Canyon, flying along Market Street. In early spring and late summer, western tiger swallowtail female flies among the corridor of sycamore trees, chemically sensing its food plant and laying eggs. The males sometimes fly low to the ground looking for puddles from which the draw salts necessary for breeding.

If this proposal is selected, I will produce a large, saturated-color, realistic, and fantastic photo collage on a wall. The collage will illustrate the complete metamorphosis of the western tiger swallowtail and its relationship to the sycamores along Market Street. The collage may also feature caterpillar defense mechanisms: osmeterium (red, sticky, foul-odor-emitting antlers that swallowtail larvae protrude when they are disturbed), and eyespots (on the upper thorax to keep birds away).

My ideal location for this artwork would be a darkly painted wall along Market Street that has no obstructions and is roughly 20 feet wide by 12 feet high. The printed collage material will be produced via color photocopy in a grid pattern for easy mounting. I will adhere the collage with wheatpaste, and the work will be coated with shellac and UV varnish to discourage fading.

I am scheduled to display new artwork, via the SFMOMA Artist Gallery, in the 24-hour exhibition windows flanking the SFMOMA’s parking garage. If I am awarded this opportunity, the work that I will create along Market Street will begin a new series of public artworks that will demonstrate urban biological diversity.